WASHINGTON – The military is beefing up efforts to gather intelligence, fend off cyber-attacks and improve relations with other nations as part of a strategy for keeping the U.S. safe while fighting two wars, according to a Pentagon document.
The four-page plan acknowledges there is still a significant risk that the military cannot quickly and fully respond to another outbreak in the world and outlines what must be done to counter that threat.
Sent to Congress by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and obtained by The Associated Press, the plan relies heavily on building partnerships with other countries. It accompanied a classified risk assessment compiled by Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"The most important component in the 'long war' is not the fighting we do ourselves, but how well we help our partners defend and govern themselves," Gates said in the plan. The term "long war" refers to the global war against terrorism.
That would include providing more disaster relief around the globe to improve "the positive worldwide perception of the United States," he said.
Mullen's risk assessment, as reported by the AP last month, concluded that long battlefield tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with persistent terrorist activity and other threats, have prevented the U.S. military from improving its ability to respond to any new crisis.
Gates echoed that sentiment, saying the greatest challenges to U.S. security continue to be terrorism, regional instability and the possibility that a hostile nation or other extremist group acquires a weapon of mass destruction.
His use of the term "long war" marks a rebirth for the phrase, which was coined by Gen. John Abizaid, when he led U.S. Central Command, and was aimed at conveying the lengthy struggle the U.S. must wage against Islamic extremists.
Abizaid's replacement, Navy Adm. William Fallon, ditched the phrase last year after he took over because he thought it suggested the U.S. would keep a large military presence in the Middle East indefinitely. Fallon, however, abruptly announced his resignation last week.
Gates' plan provides few specifics and instead maps out six broad areas where improvements must be made. The first on the list is the need to improve the military's ability to gather intelligence.
Saying the U.S. must uncover terror plots before they can be put into action, Gates said the Pentagon is adding more special operations forces, as well as other specialized troops — ranging from linguists to military police officers.
At the same time, he pointed to an increasingly critical vulnerability — cyber-attacks. He said the Defense Department must invest in new and improved ways to counter cyber-attacks and anti-satellite technologies that could knock out vital U.S. surveillance spacecraft.
The Pentagon has been repeatedly targeted by cyber-attacks of late, although few details have been released. In one instance last year, the Defense Department had to take as many as 1,500 computers off line because a penetration of the system was detected. Officials said it had no adverse impact on department operations.
Gates also used the report to continue his drumbeat for the use of more "soft power" to defeat terrorism, which includes the greater use of civilians in areas such as political development, communications and training.
As an example, he said that civilian response teams set up through the State Department will pay off, if they are properly supported. Gates has called for the creation of new government organizations, including a permanent group of civilian experts with a wide range of expertise who could be sent abroad on short notice as a supplement to U.S. military efforts.
"Military strength alone will not provide security," he said in the report.
In other comments, Gates noted the Pentagon is increasing the size of the Army and Marine Corps, investing in new equipment to replace war losses, and funding improved technologies — from fighter jets to more advanced Navy ships.